Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Why eBay doesn’t embrace “caveat emptor.”  §

So after I was the Linux guy for a number of years in the ’90s, I was the eBay guy for a number of years in the ’00s and ’10s. I’ve had lots of questions and frustration over the years from sellers annoyed by what they saw to be eBay’s draconian policies toward policing sellers and their behavior.

Though I haven’t worked at eBay for many, many years now, I still work at a company and in an industry with deep eBay connections, and that fact, combined with my particular shopping and collecting habits, means that I still buy and sell on eBay quite a lot.

For any sellers that have contacted me in the last year with those same complaints about eBay’s anti-seller policies that assume all sellers to be crooks, here’s a little anecdote.

I recently ordered an inexpensive (less than $20.00) item on eBay from a seller with a reasonable feedback profile and score. There was no particular indication of anything wrong with the item in the listing, other than the fact that it was used.

Today I received it. Here are some facts about what I received:

  • It was mostly covered in black ink that did not appear in the photo
  • It has a growing crack at a corner seam currently about three inches in length
  • There was dent in the aluminum portion of the casing, distorting the item’s body
  • The back side of the item was caked in actual food (!) that the seller did not remove before shipment

Now, imagine receiving a purchase like this if you are not a veteran eBay buyer and seller who knows what to do about such things. You’re the average person who makes only periodic online purchases, and then only periodically from eBay, because people tell you that it’s downmarket and risky.

If this is one of your few experiences on eBay, are you ever going to shop there again? And if you (and others with similar experiences) stop shopping there, is that good for sellers?

Even if you’re a tremendously conscientious seller who would never deliver a product in that state, it’s to everyone’s benefit—buyers and sellers alike—for eBay to ensure that any and all such experiences are stamped out.

And I personally want eBay to survive for a very, very long time, if not forever. Because there are just so many things that I personally like to shop for that can’t really be bought anywhere else.

— § —

On another note, every now and then I reflect on being the “Linux guy” or the “eBay guy” and the kids of writing and public communication I did in those roles.

I have and have had lots of hard-won knowledge in other areas over the years. Computer science. Social science. Literature. I have earned four college degrees, including a Ph.D., from very good universities. I have lots of powerful, specialized knowledge and skills.

But of course nobody has ever really offered to pay me for any of that. What did pay? Knowing how to shell-script in Linux and trade successfully on eBay. Very pedestrian stuff.

I understand intellectually why this is the case, but the young, naive philosopher in me doesn’t like it, at least not as a normative proposition.

The world ought to be different. It ought to be better!

It isn’t. Peoples’ lives are very small. This is why there is such a gap between elite and non-elite. Elites are the rare breed that live in an earth-sized world, and so have all of the resources of earth available to them. Non-elites live in a world the size of a single-family dwelling, plus a few roads and a big box store. Their resources are thus necessarily very limited.